Along the upland highways (notably at the Sierra Cuale summit of Highway 200 south from Puerto Vallarta, and at high stretches of National Highway 80 between Barra de Navidad and Guadalajara), the tropical forest gives way to temperate pine-oak forest, the Puerto Vallarta region’s most extensive vegetation zone. Here, many of Mexico’s 112 oak and 39 pine species thrive. Oval two-inch cones and foot-long drooping needles (three to a cluster) make the pino triste, or sad pine (Pinus lumholtzii), appear in severe need of water. Unlike many of Mexico’s pines, it produces neither good lumber nor much turpentine, although it is prized by guitar makers for its wood.
Much more regal in bearing and more commercially important are the tall pines, Chihuahua pine (Pinus chihuahuana) and Chinese pine (Pinus leiophylla). Both reddish-barked with yellow wood, they resemble the ponderosa pine of the western United States. You can tell them apart by their needles: the Chihuahua pine (pino prieto) has three to a cluster, while the Chinese pine (pino chino) has five.
Pines often grow in stands mixed with oaks, which occur in two broad classifications— encino (evergreen, small-leafed) and roble (deciduous, large-leafed)—both much like the oaks that dot California hills and valleys. Clustered on their branches and scattered in the shade, bellotas (acorns) distinctly mark them as oaks.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition